|Grandma and Papa's house.|
The noise was always coming from the kitchen. There was either music playing, mostly jazz, or the small television that sat on a cart against the wall was on, playing one of her favorite programs. I would yell, "Hi Grandma! We're here!" and I would pass through the doorway of the painted white brick wall; the wall that was the original exterior of the farmhouse that was built in the 1930's. This was the wall where three decades of my artwork was proudly on display. This was the wall that I couldn't pass by without running my hand over it and enjoying the feel of the cool, smooth, painted bricks. This was the wall where, among other special things, the picture of my great great grandmother hung. Even though it seemed to me that I looked like no one in my family, I saw a resemblance to my own narrow face and sharp cheekbones when I looked at this woman. This fact gave me (the fragile artsy girl who loved shoes and reading, yet was being raised in a no-nonsense, back breaking agricultural environment) a much needed sense of belonging. This was the wall that symbolized pride, acceptance, and love... of me, no less.
Behind the wall was the best thing on the planet, for there in that tiny kitchen with the cabinets painted seafoam green and the brown linoleum floor, was my grandmother. At 5'3" she was tiny in stature, yet fierce in her dolman sleeved sweaters with shoulder pads and her cropped silver hair. She always jingled in a way that seemed a little magical, as her delicate wrists carried her much beloved charm bracelet. Her glasses hung from a beaded chain and seemed to nestle in with the long necklaces that she wore. There was always a scarf around her neck and some cute shoes on her feet, because Grandma had style. With her jewelry chiming, she would reach out her arms for a hug, and that is when I would inhale her wonderful scent.
There was always a lot of catching up to do when we showed up for a visit. I would pull up one of the sturdy oak stools, put my elbows on the counter and rest my chin in my hands. Grandma would offer me some food and something to drink, and I would sneak a few Jelly Belly's out of the tin that sat above the counter on the shelf that held her collection of cookbooks. If I was really lucky, there would be home made coffee cake or "adult" brownies. Sometimes it would be the wonderful chicken and grapes over an English muffin that Papa would make. Sometimes it was chili or "rodeo stew". No matter what it was, the food at Grandma's house was always delicious.
I spent thirty years of my life walking through that heavy white door and being welcomed into that old farmhouse. The memories flood my head and heart whenever I think of that time. During the many hours spent at my grandparent's house in my youth, my sister and I would usually wander off to explore the big old house with its creaky wood floors and white painted trim. We often wound up in the dark cool basement, where we spent hours playing ping pong and Foosball. The basement freezer always seemed to be stocked with Dreamsicles and Rocket Pops, and we would help ourselves to refreshing frozen treats. Sometimes we would climb the dark, creaky staircase that lead to the top floor and dig through a bin of old clothes so that we could play dress up in my Grandmother's old dresses and hats. Other times we would pour ourselves onto the comfortable couch by the brick fireplace where we would spend hours reading through the hardback collection of children's books and watching old black and white shows like The Addams Family and Mr. Ed. But the best times of all were when Grandma would invite us into her bedroom. Her bedroom, early on was small and dark but full of her beautiful things. Later it was remodeled into a large, light filled space with tons of windows, a fireplace, feminine green and yellow floral wallpaper and the thickest, most wonderful celedon green carpet that felt like you were walking on pillows. The room was always filled with her sweet scent, and she always seemed to have something special and thoughtful tucked away that was just for each of us.
I realize that I was one of the lucky ones. I grew up loving my family, all of them. And they loved me. As the second oldest of all the grandchildren on both sides, I watched all my little cousins receive that same attention, connection and love from our grandparents. We were all made to feel special and important. We were all seen. We were all loved. Every single one of us.
My grandma passed away over 10 years ago in that very house. With her passing, came a great void in my life, just like the lives of so many other members of my family. I hold my memories of her close to my heart and I feel great honor and pride that I am her granddaughter. Going back to her old house would make me feel like I was walking into her loving embrace. That old house was my deepest earthly connection with my grandmother.
|Grandma and her jingly jewelry.|
Papa grew old and ill of mind and body. The family had to move him to a full-care facility, which left his home with the glossy white brick wall empty. The old farmhouse, with its paneling, floral wallpaper, worn wood floors and white brick wall was never meant to be empty. The old house sat there, alone. Three years passed and during that time the family had to make some tough decisions regarding the house and the six acres on which it sat. Papa's health continued to decline and the cost of his care continued to rise. During that time, my husband and I spent nights sitting awake in bed, pen and notepad in hand, making lists upon lists that mapped out our future. We wanted to buy the old farm house with the painted white brick wall and restore it to its former glory. We wanted the doors to always remain open to family. We desired raising our children within those walls, but making a move back to Iowa during a sluggish economy was frightening. We told the family what we could pay, but it was under the value, and we knew that. We prayed. We waited for a sign: like a job offer or anything that would indicate that moving back to Iowa was in our best interest. Nothing happened, so we continued our lives here in Colorado with my grandparents' empty house always tugging at my heart and the 'what-ifs' taunting my head. I still question if we made the right decision or if we let an opportunity pass out of fear and immobility.
Recently, the house sold. Unfortunately it sold outside of the family and for not much more than what we offered. The new buyers said that they had many plans for remodeling. Apparently their remodeling plans quickly turned into a different strategy, as just a few weeks ago they completely demolished the house with the white brick wall. It was clearly theirs to destroy, as they bought and paid for it. Still, that fact does not ease the pain from our families' loss of their literal and physical foundation. I know it doesn't ease mine.
My mom and I have had a few really thought provoking discussions because of the demise of the old farmhouse, which has been a blessing since we are both insanely "busy" in our own full and demanding lives. During one of our talks my mom reminded me of a quote from the movie Hope Floats.
“Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it's what's in the middle that counts. So when you find yourself at the beginning, just give hope a chance to float up. And it will.”
The book of the old farmhouse is over. The house is gone forever, it's doors eternally closed to all who found grace and recognition there. The white brick wall, with its uncanny capacity to represent the ultimate love, acceptance and belonging is now nothing but dust and rubble. All that remain are photographs, stories and memories. The time has come to open a new book..... and start writing.....
I know now that that house, specifically that brick wall within the house, was merely a symbol of the greatest things in life: Giving love and hope to those around you. Accepting people for their truth, and showing support of them. Building a solid foundation for your family. Being steadfast and supportive. Maintaining the beauty and dignity around you and within you. Remembering where you came from but never forgetting who you truly are. Living with intention and integrity. And making the middle really count.
Have you ever been loved unconditionally? Have you ever really been seen and then still accepted by another? It is truly a blessing to have people in your life who do this for you. It is truly a gift to be able to feel this for someone else. I am one of the fortunate ones, for not only have I been given love regardless of all my nonsense, I have also been able to give it, regardless of other's nonsense. I learned that from my sturdy, tiny grandmother and one sturdy, glossy, white brick wall.
Every day brings a new realization, and every day the wound heals a bit. I am rebuilding a foundation, keeping in mind my past but also embracing the future and the unknown. I inherited all of my grandmother's "junk jewelry" after she passed. I wear something of hers almost every day. It keeps her close in my thoughts and actions. In fact, I jingle a little myself now, especially when I'm in the kitchen.
This video is dedicated to my mama.